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Regional & National

Hundreds march against abuse in Delhi's 'SlutWalk'

July 31st, 2011 8:54 am by MUNEEZA NAQVI

NEW DELHI (AP) — There were no short skirts, fishnet stockings or lingerie on display that were the staple of other global "SlutWalk" marches as hundreds gathered in India's capital on Sunday to protest sexual violence against women.

The event condemned the notion widely held in this traditional society that a woman's appearance can explain or excuse rape and sexual harassment. In India, public sexual taunting or even groping of women — locally known as "Eve teasing" — is common.

While millions of women in India now work outside their homes as the economy continues to grow at a fast clip, the country is still largely conservative. Perhaps keeping that in mind, most marchers wore jeans and T-shirts or salwar-kameezes, the Indian tunic paired with loose pants.

"We're walking for a cause and we're dressed in the same clothes that we wear everyday," organizer Umang Sabharwal said ahead of the march.

Similar marches have been held in cities around the world. The protests originated in Toronto, Canada, where they were sparked by a police officer's remark that women could avoid being raped by not dressing like "sluts."

In Toronto and later Boston, several women have marched in lingerie with the word "slut" painted on their bodies.

New Delhi's version of the protest was both tamer and smaller.

While earlier versions of the protest drew thousands, about 500 marchers and an almost equal number of reporters and photographers gathered Sunday in the sweltering July heat of the Indian capital. The marchers carried placards that said, "Change your thinking not your clothes" and "Our life, our body, our rights."

Despite rapid modernization in its big cities, India's attitudes toward women are still largely patriarchal. The incidence of rapes and sexual attacks on women are high.

The Indian capital has a terrible reputation for women's safety. A government-backed United Nations survey has found that about 85 percent of women in New Delhi are afraid of being sexually harassed while outside their homes for work or study.

Earlier this month, the city's police chief said that women should avoid going out late at night and advised them to take a male relative or friend with them for their own safety.

"I think Delhi is the city that needs the 'SlutWalk' the most. Everyone knows what the environment here is like for a woman and I think the reason why it happens the most is because we accept it," said Sabharwal, a 19-year-old journalism student at Delhi University.

Police in the capital attempted two years ago to make it easier for women to report abuse by putting female officers at front desks in police stations across the sprawling city.

National statistics show the capital accounts for twice as many abuses as other Indian cities. But most cases still go unreported because victims fear having to face male police officers who dismiss or deride their complaints.

India recorded 21,467 rape cases in 2008, up 18 percent from the 18,233 cases in 2004, according to the figures from the National Crime Records Bureau.

Other crimes are also rising, including sexual harassment, abuse and killings over dowry disputes despite stringent laws that mandate life in prison as punishment.

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